Vive La France!
It's Bastille Day today, and I like to think that not only did Marie Antoinette helpfully suggest to her courtiers that les miserables should use their loaf and switch from bread to cake, they might also consider drinking Champagne if their filthy troughs should ever run dry.
July 14 is the day when most French people take their holidays, and as there is plenty of toasting for the liberty, equality, and fraternity celebrations, I thought it might be a good day to take a closer look at French wine. Because even though we associate France hugely with wine, when it comes to reading a label, many of us find ourselves raising an eyebrow and uttering an Inspector Clouseau-like "Quoi?"
A bit of detective work is required. Unlike the clearly labelled bottles from the new world, one of the big problems with French wine is that the grape variety is seldom mentioned on the bottle. Regulations in France are strict and have been developed over centuries. Wines are categorised by the location of the vineyards, so the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, which is a named delimited area appears on the label. This is often abbreviated as AOC or AOP, P standing for Protegée, the EU terminology.
Why put the place on the label rather than the grape, you may ask? It is because in France, the focus has always been on terroir, which is not just about the soil - whether it is limestone or clay, granite or sand - it is also about the weather and finer detail like the slope and elevation of the vineyards. If you live in the region, you are going to know this stuff, but for the rest of us, it means cracking open a book and taking a bit of time to study the different appellations. Which isn't much help when you're faced with wall to wall French wines.
There are a few quick ways to identify French wines that you might like. If you like Sauvignon Blanc, look out for Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé or Touraine on the wine labels. From the Loire region, these wines have all the freshness that you associate with the grape, but the flavours tend to be more grassy than the passionfruit and gooseberry flavours associated with New Zealand. It is also worth looking out for Graves, Entre-Deux-Mers and Pessac-Léognan Bordeaux whites, where Sauvignon Blanc is blended with Sémillon and aged for a while in oak giving it a broader flavour.
Chardonnay fans should look for Bourgogne Blanc, and in particular Mâcon if you like a softer style. Pouilly-Fuissé is one of the better known appellations from this region. You will also find some great Chardonnays from Limoux in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, very often with the varietal on the bottle, which is allowed if the wine is classified as Vin de France, and not classified by appellation. And if you like a really crisp, lean Chardonnay, try a Chablis.
If you love an Australian Shiraz with your barbecued steak, look for wines from the Northern Rhône. Although these tend to be expensive, Bastille Day may be just the right excuse to try something different. Crozes-Hermitage is the largest appellation in this region and is at a more affordable level. And you'll find plenty of full bodied red blends from the Southern Rhone, Languedoc, Fitou and Corbières.
If you're heading to France on holidays, the rule is to choose bottles from the region you're staying in. The local supermarkets will be well stocked with local wines and you'll get a chance to try bottles that might not be available at home. Santé.
Always wanting to bring something new to whiskey lovers, the Irish Whiskey Museum have been hosting a series of distillery pop-ups in their Victorian Bar overlooking Trinity College. The third pop-up of the series sees Ballyvolane House Spirits Company bring Bertha's Revenge Small Batch Milk Gin to Dublin for a special B&T (Bertha's & Tonic) tasting, along with a summery rhubarb martini. On Thursday, July 26, co-founder Antony Jackson will do a talk and tasting on their hand-crafted gin made from whey alcohol from Irish dairy farmers, spring water from Ballyvolane House and a mix of 18 locally foraged botanicals. irishwhiskeymuseum.ie; €15 per person.
4 wines to try
Veuve Clicquot Champagne Rosé NV, €69.95
12.5pc, from O'Brien's, 64 Wine, Redmond's, Molloys, Mitchell & Son, CHQ, Sandycove, Avoca, Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne; Le Caveau, Kilkenny; and Tesco.
200 years ago Madame Clicquot was the first to create the style of rosé Champagne we drink today, so what better way to toast Bastille Day? With beautiful red fruit flavours it is balanced with a savoury quality that is touched with brioche.
Exquisite Collection Crémant du Jura 2015, €12.49
12pc, from Aldi
Brilliant value, this sparkling wine made from 100pc Chardonnay has just picked up a silver medal at the International Wine and Spirits Challenge. Fresh, with fruity flavours of green apple, lemon and a hint of tangerine, it's a bubbly that will put Prosecco in the shade.
Le Petit Courselle 'Les Copains' 2016, €15.50
12.5pc, from Wines Direct
A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah from Bordeaux, this juicy red has pure fruit flavours with red currant, raspberry and a touch of a leafy character. A great summer wine. Perfect with pizza, roast chicken or charcuterie.
Gérard Bertrand Domaine de Villemajou, €17.95 reduced from €20.95
14.5pc, from O'Brien's
Grab this while it's reduced. Dark and full bodied, this smooth blend of Carignan, Grenache Noir and Syrah is from the vineyards at Gérard Bertrand's home in Boutenac in Corbiéres. This organic wine is layered and intense, packed with rich dark fruit, with a savoury note of liquorice and a touch of leather.